When Annie Lyall’s father was diagnosed with diabetes 10 years ago, his entire lifestyle had to be changed. Little did she know that it would change her life one day, either.
“My dad immediately changed his diet, but he’s always loved sweets and I’ve known for years that he has a cupboard full of sugar-free treats,” explains Lyle. About 18 months ago, she researched the sugar-free foods her dad stashed in his pantry, hoping to find something sweet for herself. She also wanted to satisfy cravings for Mexican sweets, something she particularly enjoyed, having been born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. However, there was nothing – just chocolate, lollipops, and caramel.
I was like, “How come they don’t have a sugar-free Mexican dessert?” And he was like, “Mija, I can’t find her,” Leal reenacts. She was in disbelief, and spent the entire evening combing the internet for some form of sugar-free and sweet-spicing candy to provide for her dad, but there was none. The answer was immediately obvious to her: she had to make it herself. That was the start of I Love Chamoy, a Mexican sugar-free sauce brand created by Leal.
“The next day, my dad would drive me to Target to get notebooks and pens, as if it was the first day of school,” Lil laughs. “I had no idea where to start, but I was just starting to craft the names and the logo.”
Leal has a background in social media and marketing, and has been developing brands for a company run by a food engineer. That’s when I decided to ask for her help with the recipe and development portion of I Love Chamoy. “I never thought I’d be in consumer goods,” she says, adding, “I can’t really cook to save my life, and that’s the funny part.”
Although Lille didn’t know exactly how R&D worked, she knew firsthand the taste of chamois. And so began her journey of testing iteration after iterating the sugar-free chamois, made with chili peppers, limes, and citric acid, and sweetened with monk fruit. In the 27th edition, Lyle was convinced that she had nailed the flavor and introduced it to her father and sister.
Although she loves her family and their endless support for her and the business, they are not unfaithful. “My little sister is decisive, but in the best possible way,” Lil laughs. “I was expecting it to be like, ‘That’s so good,’ but instead she said, ‘It hasn’t arrived yet. Balance sweet, spicy, and tangy, without the added sugar.
Leal’s first run was an order of 750 bottles, something she was hoping to be able to sell within six months. But using her marketing chops, she posted about her business on TikTok, hoping to attract at least some attention to her new product. The video went viral and her order sold out in less than a week. “It turns out that a lot of people have similar stories to my dad’s, so we’ve been kind of running 100mph since then,” Lil smiles.
The next work order was to get rid of the red 40 of its ingredients, and the feedback it received from the growing TikTok community. She’s back to test a new formula again, this time with attempts to replace the synthetic dye with the natural colors of beetroot and cranberry powder. Lille eventually settled on using hibiscus, known for its glowing red color as well as the wrinkle tang which is a natural complement to the chamomile plant. Hibiscus is also used frequently in Mexican cuisine, so the pairing made sense.
“I think sharing and growing our work on TikTok and on Instagram in this way allowed for a fast and efficient feedback loop,” she explains. “After seeing these very valid comments, I realized there’s this whole audience that we don’t take advantage of by not changing this about our product.”
Worked to change the recipe. I Love Chamoy is currently available for pre-order, after selling several times, Leal’s next run has jumped from an initial 750 bottles to 15,000 bottles. People all over TikTok re-share videos of themselves trying their product — with fruit, in micheladas, over cucumber. Even people who have never tried chamoi before discover different ways to use it.
“Someone used to say, ‘I didn’t know what to do with it, but I tracked down the shrimp and that was great,'” Lyle says.
The core of Lil’s story is family. Everyone is concerned: Her mom works like a VP of operations, constantly checking in on sales. Her sister has a financial background and is a QuickBooks keeper. Her father became the face of I Love Chamoy, and was even recognized from the TikToks in which he appeared.
And Leal, of course, is the mastermind behind it all, running a positive TikTok community showing the transparency behind her entrepreneurial journey and all the behind-the-scenes work it takes to build a family-owned business.
“We’ve never had a hobby where we’re all together and so involved,” she says. “That was the cherry on top of all that thing.”